by Frank Cooney

Davis puts a price tag on quarterback Stabler

July 8, 1979
Featured image for “Davis puts a price tag on quarterback Stabler”

Originally published by the San Francisco Examiner on July 08, 1979 • Cover photo © Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

(For several months the big news in pro football has been that Oakland Raider quarterback Ken Stabler wants to be traded. Stabler and his agent, Henry Pitts, insist that there are teams interested, but Raider managing general partner Al Davis insists nobody has stepped forward. Examiner sportswriter Frank Cooney recently visited Pitts in Alabama and Davis in Santa Rosa to discuss the Stabler issue. Acting as a conduit between the two, Cooney helped set ground rules by which this matter can be set squarely before the public. The result should determine if a Stabler trade can be made, as Pitts contends, or if nobody is interested, as Davis has indicated.)

By Frank Cooney

Examiner Staff Writer c-1979, S.F. Examiner

SANTA ROSA —  Here’s the play. Al Davis has handed the ball to Henry Pitts and Ken Stabler. Now it is up to them to either run away or fall on their faces.

Original SF Examiner Article
Original SF Examiner Article, July 08, 1979

Davis, managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders, has agreed to allow Pitts, Stabler’s agent, to engage in trade talks with any National Football League team. More important, Davis has accepted Pitts’ guidelines on minimum requirements for a viable trade. 

If Pitts can get two first-round draft choices and two quality players who are young and healthy — one possibly a quarterback,  then Davis would be ready to consider a deal.

“If Henry and Kenny are so sure they can deliver, we certainly are ready to listen.”

Raiders Managing General Partner Al Davis

That’s it, pure and simple, although dealing with those two men should never be described as simple, as The Examiner found out while working out the particulars of this ticklish issue. But in the end, Pitts took the challenge head-on and Davis, although reluctant to make trades through the media, agreed.

“I’ll be on the phone first thing Monday morning,” Pitts promised.

“If Henry and Kenny are so sure they can deliver, we certainly are ready to listen,” Davis responded.

Pitts, approached first by The Examiner, was asked if he would be willing to find a trade for Stabler if Davis gave permission. In this case permission is another team would be breaking league “tampering” ” rules if it talked to him or his agent.

“Our position is as it’s always been from the beginning,” Pitts said, warming up to the matter at hand. “We don’t feel it is in the best interest of Kenny or the Raiders that Kenny remain with Oakland, especially considering all that has been said over the past four months.” 

QB Kenny Stabler and C Dave Dalby in Super Bowl XI versus the Minnesota Vikings
QB Kenny Stabler and C Dave Dalby in Super Bowl XI versus the Minnesota Vikings
© Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

To recap for those whose minds have been farther away than Skylab during those months: Stabler demanded to be traded last January following the team’s 9-7 season. He felt he was unjustly criticized by Davis and given too much personal blame for the Raiders’ downfall. Last month Stabler criticized the play of three of his teammates in a national publication, which naturally invited counterclaims by those players.

During all this, Pitts has contended that he knew teams were interested in Stabler but the Raiders were scaring them away by asking “for the moon.” Davis, meanwhile, insisted that he had not set a price because nobody had stepped forward to even discuss trading for Stabler. 

Now back to the present, and Pitts’ response:

“Everyone knows that Kenny is the premier quarterback in the National Football League,” he said. “I certainly feel that a trade could be worked out that would benefit Kenny and the Oakland Raiders.

“There are several clubs in need of a quarterback of Kenny’s stature and those clubs have material that would help Oakland. Everyone knows that because of injuries Oakland needs running backs. Also the Raiders possibly need an offensive lineman and a defensive back. They also need help on the kicking game because their returns haven’t been as good as they usually are. This is not to say anything bad or cast reflections on players in those positions.”

Pitts also felt that if Oakland traded Stabler another conspicuous opening would be created.

“I presume if any trade took place with Kenny that Oakland would then need a quarterback, too,” Pitts said. “There are several clubs around the league who have quarterbacks that would fit into the Raider system. I don’t believe you are going to find another ..(jumps to page 10c) From Page 1C) Kenny Stabler, but they are adequate.”

Oakland Raiders Principal Owner/General Manager Al Davis
Oakland Raiders Principal Owner/General Manager Al Davis
© Peter Brouillet-USA TODAY Sports

All right. Pitts, who would you talk to and what would you ask for?

“I’d like to talk to Los Angeles, Atlanta, the New York Giants and Tampa Bay,” he said, naming a list that has become familiar since Stabler first hinted where he would want to go. “Chicago is in bad need of a quarterback, but I don’t know that I would talk to them. 

“I think a minimum deal would involve two first round draft picks, possibly a number two plus a player or two,” Pitts said. “Or maybe two first round picks and two good players. Something like that. I think that would be a good deal for all parties.”

Pitts recognized that he could not be given unlimited time to work such a deal. He also acknowledged that just because Davis allowed such talks, it does not preclude Stabler’s obligation to attend Oakland’s training camp. 

“I consider the whole thing urgent because Oakland has its veterans coming to camp next Thursday and other teams start a week after that,” Pitts said.

“For myself, I think that if we are allowed to shop for our own trade that it is a valid request to ask Kenny to go to camp. Tills certainly shows Oakland’s good faith. But what Kenny does on July 12 (the reporting date), is up to Kenny.

“Kenny always has that overwhelming ‘ desire to be a winner and he knows that to perform well enough to be a winner it helps to work out in training camp as much as possible. But that’s only from a team coordination standpoint. Physically, Kenny right now is in the best shape he has been in for several years. He weighs between 208 and 212 pounds. But weight does not have anything to do with Kenny’s knowledge of the game and he is the most knowledgeable quarterback in the NFL today maybe ever.” 

Well. Mr. Davis, is permission granted?

“I’m glad Henry and Kenny think Kenny is the premiere quarterback in football,” Davis said. “I only hope and only care that he plays like it not talks it.

“Henry may or may not be good for Kenny, but I don’t think he or Kenny should be criticizing Kenny’s teammates.”

All right, that is duly noted, but what about the details and the permission? Davis responded reluctantly.

“I would agree to the minimum guidelines as suggested by Henry,” Davis said. “That would be two first round draft choices and two quality, young players with no injury problems one possibly a quarterback. Again, that would be the minimum compensation I would consider. We would give a deal like that our consideration.”

Back to you, Henry. Any qualms about making those players young and healthy?

“Exactly the kind I had in mind,” Pitts said. “I guess this drops the ball right in our lap. doesn’t it?”

That’s right, you are on your own. Let’s finally see if your Ken Stabler trade talk is fact or fiction.


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